The Driverless Commute: VW and Ford to partner on AVs, latest in long string of tie-ups; 11 companies unveil safety-as-design principles, offering closest thing to industry standard; and Lyft tests its cars on blind passengers

1. Big tabs and hard realities.

Going-it-alone is, like, so 2018.

Volkswagen and Ford, one-time rivals fast sobering to the costs and difficulty of engineering next-generation cars, said Friday they would pool resources in the development of autonomous vehicles. Under the long-rumored deal, VW will invest upwards of $2.6 billion into Ford’s self-driving unit, which was already valued at $7 billion before the tie-up.

The agreement is the latest in a string—so many, in fact, that we’ve lost count—of fiercely competitive carmakers cooperating to develop self-driving technology.

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The Driverless Commute: Finally out of dark days of early 2000s, do airlines need to be scared of AV disruption threat?; Florida OKs fully self-driving cars; and the long list of new tie-ups and break-ups

1. Disruption

The years that followed the September 11, 2001 terror attacks were uniquely challenging for airlines, but consolidation, cheap fuel and savvy management (not to mention taxpayer bailouts) finally delivered some much-need ballast to the industry only within the last decade.

Now, with profits finally stabilized, new problems are on the horizon.

Fresh research out of Embry-Riddle, the world’s largest aviation and aerospace university, finds that travelers’ appetite for the increasing ordeal of air travel, in particular short-haul travel, is threatened by the convenience of automotive autonomy.

In the study, researchers submitted trips of different lengths and asked respondents whether they would drive themselves, take a flight or ride in a self-driving car.

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The Driverless Commute: Groups ask NHTSA to pump brakes on GM AV petition; USPS goes driverless; the last-ten-feet problem; and Cruise can make left turns in San Fran better than you

1. Public comment season

Cruise vehicle

Groups representing property and life insurance providers, car dealers and consumer safety advocates were among those who lined up to oppose a petition by General Motors to deploy on public roads as many as 5,000 autonomous vehicles that lack conventional operational controls, such as a steering wheel.

  • GM first asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in January 2018 for a special dispensation to skirt the Federal Motor Vehicles Safety Standards, which explicitly require a steering wheel,  acceleration and braking pedals and the like.
  • If approved, the car giant said, it would deploy 2,500 zero-emission driverless cars each year for two years as part of a new on-demand ride-sharing initiative.
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The Driverless Commute: A light pollution solution in AVs; Tesla-taxis; and Waymo’s app is up for download

1. Seeing in the dark

Nighttime skyline

A new paper published this month in the journal of Science and Engineering Ethics posits that autonomous vehicles could help break the industrialized world’s addiction to artificial nighttime light.

  • Light pollution from cars, street and parking lot lamps all wreak havoc on our natural world. Seduced by the other-worldly glow of towers and lamps, insects are lured to their doom, baby turtles are beached and birds crash and clatter.
  • Street and parking lot light represent some 90 percent of all outdoor illumination from the industrialized world.
  • 1.6 percent of all energy consumed globally is poured into streetlights while headlights consume roughly 3 percent of vehicular fuel.
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The Driverless Commute: Is 2019 a bear turn for AVs?; the fight over connected car communication divides car makers in Europe; cheaper, lighter LiDAR and machine-learning for lane-keeping.

1. A bear year

2018 was the year of the driverless car.

No, they didn’t become commercially available and they failed to traverse the realm of true autonomy, but they captured the public’s imagination and sometimes paranoia in a way unlike ever before. Finally, it wasn’t just artificial intelligence researchers talking about autonomous vehicles, but regular Joes drawn in equal parts fascination and fear to the subject.

But now the honeymoon is over.

After throwing money at startups like drunken sailors for years, the industry has signaled a coming retrenchment. Rather than more multi-billion dollar acquisitions, expect to hear about reoganizations and partnerships that would have been unthinkable only years earlier.

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The Driverless Commute: Disengagement reports from China to California and lessons for AV sector in jet crashes

1. Beijing just issued AV report cards. Here’s why you should use California’s instead.

China autonomous vehicles  - Beijing AV report

Beijing transportation officials offered this week a first, if severely constrained, glimpse into the country’s autonomous vehicle industry, saying in a new report that eight licensed self-driving firms had logged more than 150,000 kilometers on public roads last year in the Chinese capital.

Ninety percent of that distance was managed by just one operator, search giant Baidu, which also leads the pack in number of test vehicles.

Reports on test driving stats for self-driving vehicles by various autonomous vehicle firms.

Notably absent from the government’s report are measures of disengagements, though a parallel report by a private think tank using voluntary data described 23 situations in which safety drivers were required to assume control of the cars.

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The Driverless Commute: GM’s driverless exemption petition advances, but key questions for industry remains; a driver’s test for driverless cars; and robo-race car to edge test

1. NHTSA advances GM’s FMVSS exemption bid. But we still don’t have answers on liability.

Car from GM Cruise LLC, a driverless  car company that tests and develops autonomous car technology.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is airing for public comment two petitions to deploy on public roads vehicles that lack conventional controls like a steering wheel or pedals.

The move came some fourteen months after General Motors first asked federal regulators for a temporary exemption from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The automaker asked the agency in January 2018 for 16 human-driver-based exemptions from FMVSS with the hope it could deploy a fleet of robocabs later this year. (You can read their petition here.)

If approved, federal regulators would be endorsing the bold proposition that autonomous vehicles (these ones, at least) can deliver a standard of safety equivalent to what is already required of existing cars, but the long wait is evidence that catching the feds’ green light is neither easy nor assured.

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